331st Meeting – Tuesday, January 25th 2011. 19.30 hrs at the Alliance Française

“Art and Community in Cambodia”

A talk and a short demonstration on circus performance by Phare Ponleu Selpak, the Cambodian Theatre Group

Present: Suriya Smutkupt, Bennett Lerner, Pauline Erara, Richard Indecipherable, Kusuma Venzky-Stalling, David and Mangkhoot, Renee Vines, Shelley Halstead, Hans and Saengdao Bänziger, June Hulley, Mark and Dianne Barber-Riley, Lamar and Chongchit Sripun Robert, Noriko Yabata, Edward Tio, Saraya Thanyacharoen, Yvan Lamotte, Sebastien Tayac, Louis Gabaude, Mensard Thainurak, Estelle Cohenny, Khru Chang, Jackie Ponola. An audience of 26, or so.  

Summary of the evening:

The evening commenced with the performersPin Phounam, Heng Samnang, Nem Sothea, Chea Sophea, Ngai Sok Heng, Chhuon Chandann, Khuon Kimlor, and Meas Mongkol introducing themselves and then Khuon Det, Artistic Director, and Khuon Reaksmey, Awareness Theatre Manager, gave some background information on Phare Ponleu Selpak:

The name of Phare Ponleu Selpak is the Khmer translation of the phrase ‘brightness of art’. The idea of creative association which would use arts for expression began in 1986 at the Site 2 Refugee Camp on the Thai border during the Khmer Rouge regime where young refugees where given drawing workshops to help them overcome the trauma of war. In 1992, after the refugees returned to their homeland, a group of these Site 2 children pursued this idea. They founded Phare Ponleu Selpak.

Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) is a local NGO, founded in 1994 and based in Battambang province, Cambodia.

Phare Ponleu Selpak is dedicated to taking care of vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the community of Anchanh village, Ochar commune, Battambang District, through a global intervention combining:

·        social services

·        formal education

·        artistic vocational training

·        creative, cultural and educational activities enhancing child’s personal development and community life

PPS enjoys growing national and international recognition through the quality its artistic schools: circus arts, theater, visual arts and music. Since 1998, PPS has produced numerous acts and shows that have been performed all over Cambodia as well as abroad; in Europe, Korea and the Philippines

PPS in partnership with Goutte d'eau (GEcsn) - a child support network, is offering food to more than 70 extremely vulnerable children. The nutrition program is central to PPS strategy towards these children as it makes the other activities possible for these children:

·        They do not have to spend time looking for food or money to fulfill their needs 

·        They are protected from malnutrition which is widely spread in Cambodia, particularly in the case of very poor people 

·        They are receiving what they need to be able to practice the other activities in the best shape: formal education, artistic, educational and sport activities.


Daily nutrition is given to these children giving them the opportunity to participate in PPS activities promoting their well being, personal blossoming and social reintegration.


·        All the children are receiving daily meals at PPS center.

·        Each of these children is participating in at least one of the activities proposed by PPS.

·        All the children are benefiting from personal counseling and support by PPS social services.

·        Moreover, having meals together, these children are reintegrated into social and community relationships which are necessary to their personal development and the building of their future life. PPS is promoting by this mean, and ensuring for these kids, the respect of each child’s right to be properly nourished regardless of their personal history and of their birth.

In 2009 GEcsn will continue in supporting PPS activities in favor of orphans and vulnerable children.



Khuon Det, the Artistic Director, talked about the role of PPS in Cambodian culture and the community

What is the role of arts and culture in development work? What are sample cultural initiatives?

PPS’ development work focuses on rebuilding identities of the most vulnerable children and teenagers encouraging the development of strong personalities, leaderships as well as improving livelihoods. Therefore the practice of art has very direct impact on PPS student’s life because it is a very powerful tool for the blossoming of children and development of their self-confidence. Integrating art and culture in the development work leverages the impact of the help brought to those children for them to become autonomous adult.

Cultural initiatives are a constant element in the PPS work, included in the non-formal and artistic education as a base for learning. The shows of the awareness theater troupe also lean on cultural references as well as in the circus shows. Visual art exhibitions usually display a modern vision of Cambodia. Therefore through the eyes of its youth, Cambodian culture is revisited and renewed by the artists of PPS.

How does art and culture transcend its utilitarian function to a more integral role in development work?

We believe that through the performances we are presenting to Cambodian and international audiences, cultural references and key messages included in the plot of the story have a greater impact than long speeches. Our theater performances played in remote areas of Cambodia use culture as a context, as content, and as a tool, to raise communities’ awareness and address them answers to face everyday life issues, while they have access to art and culture. Moreover, art has the power to gather people around common symbols and values, to be constantly recreated. In that sense art is able to generate link of solidarity and brotherhood that constitute prior basis to undertake a sane development.

How can arts and culture expand, claim public space for issue advocacy?

One of the most important means to expand arts and culture is to aware/alert a diversity of actors in the development field (NGO, founders, private or public actors, local and international actors) as well as national authorities. Obviously, the more we establish partnerships in different fields of work the more we can invest public spaces with legitimacy. The more we invest public space and make ourselves visible, we are most likely to leverage the impact of our work at a community level as well as at a national level. Parallel to this work, art presented should reach a certain level of quality to enhance the legitimacy of our messages, as well as the messages should be clear and reliable.

What are the overriding principles in doing arts for development? What are the rules of engagement in arts and culture in development work?

Art and culture have to promote in their practice itself the principles they want to highlight:

gender (with participation of both boys and girls), brotherhood, dialogue, respect of each other. Art in development work must adapt in the sense that the messages have to be readable for the audience, not too obscurantist.

What are the requirements for arts and culture to impact on development work?

The focus should be clearly made on giving the artists the possibility to express their point of view (which is a struggle in certain developing country and which by itself, helps to promote freedom of thought and speech), as well as staying in a positive process, not only pointing out the problems but proposing solutions involving harmony.

How do you negotiate points of view (vision, content, analysis) between the various layers and sectors of arts in development initiatives e.g. artists, the development organization, government and financers? How do you create unities and resolve differences?

The main concern is to accept compromises, and be ready to orientate the art piece for the purpose of a message. This is not the usual procedure for an artist, therefore it can result frustrating if the creator of the piece doesn’t turn the constraint to his advantage.

The unity is to be found in the artistic form itself! The advantage of art is that it can gather and display ideas in another way written documents would do.

What are the challenges confronting arts and culture in development work?

Culture and art need to be understood as means for blossoming, advocacy and expression. It is rarely a market on its own in developing countries, so financers are difficult to reach. It is rarely taken in consideration by governments, where it should be as we can find many examples of nation empowering governance and awareness through a revival of their national identity by the culture and arts.

Khuon Reaksmey, Awareness Theatre Manager, then talked about the story behind ‘Distant Haze’.


Wars wound and scar every child; either directly from first-hand experience or indirectly from their parents and others. For Sokha, the young Cambodian girl in the story, even the sound of thunder reminds her of mortar fire and bombs. Her sense of life is shattered and splintered, she finds comfort only when she is awake and stays beside her foster parents and friends; with their warmth and encouragement she is free to play and wander joyfully in the light. But when she is asleep, the shadow of fear haunts her. She runs away and hides but when she does she realizes that this is not the solution; what she needs to do is to stand up, face and then conquer the fear that threatens her whole being. Only by conquering her fear can she move forward in her life. With the help of a friend and foster parents, she starts to feel that she is not alone and there is a way to healing her wounds.

Phare Ponleu Selpak uses the spectacle of circus and dance not only to entertain its audience but to show the innovative re-telling of stories from their Khmer Rouge experience. ‘Distant Haze’ is part of Mekong Creative Communities; Arts for Advocacy Fellowship 2010 by

Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) Main support from Save the Children through the European Union, Additional contributions from Terre des Hommes  (More info: http://www.petatheater.com/mekong.html )


Members of the troupe then gave a brief demonstration of some of the juggling and acrobatics that they perform in ‘Distant Haze’.

Khun Ratchanok Ketboonruang, formerly the gallery & event manager at La Luna Gallery, and now a Representative of CNX Art Connex said a few words about CNX Art Connex (Team: Piyashat Sinpimonboon, Thirayut Sangamsakun and Ratchanok Ketboonruang):

CNX Art Connex was initiated to act as a bridge that connects art works, artists, communities, environment, as well as art related concepts and knowledge altogether. Our mission is to bring together artists, art learners, audiences, communities, and art related organizations in Chiang Mai. With your kind support and suggestions, we would one day become a really strong bridge.

We are currently cooperating with Phare Ponleu Selpak; the Cambodian performing group, as part of the Mekong Creative Communities 2010. Phare Ponleu Selpak will present their remarkable performance ‘Distant Haze’ at the Chiang Mai College of Dramatic Arts on Saturday, January 29th 2011 at 7 pm. In addition, PPS will spend two days on 26-27 January at the regional Juvenile Vocational Training Center to conduct the workshop and present “Distant Haze” to 700 children at the center. They will also present ‘Distant Haze’ for underprivileged children and for the representatives of the organizations that work for children as well as the students in Dramatic Arts on 29 January at 2 pm.

For more information please visit out webpage: http://cnxartconnex.wordpress.com. 

An engaged question and answer session brought to a close what had been a memorable evening of information and entertainment.


Calendar of future events:

European Film Festival at the Alliance Française:  

Monday, February 7th, 2011 at 6:00 P.M. & 8:00 P.M.

‘Welcome’ (2008) directed by PHILIPPE LIORET

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 at 6:00 P.M. & 8:00 P.M.

‘Les Enfants de Timpelbach’ (Trouble at Timpeltill) (2008) directed by NICOLAS BARY

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011 at 6:00 P.M. & 8:00 P.M.

‘La Reine Soleil’ (The Princess of the Sun) (2005) directed by PHILIPPE LECLERC

Thursday, February 10th, 2011 at 6:00 P.M. & 8:00 P.M.

‘Comme les Autres’ (Baby Love) (2008) Directed by VINCENT GARENQ

Friday, February 11th, 2011 at 6:00 P.M. & 8:00 P.M.

‘La Graine et le Mulet’ (The Secret of the Grain) (2007) Directed by ABDELLATIF KECHICHE

Saturday, February 19th, 2011 at 7:00 pm at the AUA, Ratdamnoen Road

A Concert by Vadim Tchijik (Violin) accompanied by Fabrice Loyal (Cello)

Entrance: 250 B (students: 100 B)

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 at 7:30 pm at the Alliance Française

“Twisting Buddhism Through the Christian Lexicon: 'ordination'”

A talk by Louis Gabaude

It has become normal to talk about ‘ordination’ of Buddhist monks, to call for 'ordination' of Buddhist nuns, and even, last but not least, to 'ordain' trees! Using 'ordination' for a Buddhist ritual is just one case in many of twisting Buddhism with Christian words like 'sin', 'vow', 'prayer' and so on.

The talk will first focus on the history of the words in Buddhism and Christianity: it will recall the history and uses of the word ‘buat’ in Thai and of 'pabbajjâ' or 'upasampada' in Pâli. Then it will turn to the history and use of the word 'ordination' in Christianity on the one hand, and to the real Christian equivalents of 'buat' on the other.

The use of 'ordination' to translate ‘buat’, 'pabbajjâ' or 'upasampada' just shows how the meanings of both 'ordination' in Christianity and those of 'buat', 'pabbajjâ' or 'upasampada' in Buddhism were forgotten due to ignorance, misunderstanding or interest by those, be they Catholics, Protestants or Buddhists, who first chose and then went on using this word ('ordination') for something (buat) which actually belongs to a radically different religious structure.

Louis Gabaude, a resident of Chiang Mai for 36 years, is a retired member of the French School of Asian Studies (École française d'Extrême-Orient) where he specialized in the history of ideas in Buddhism